A decade is equivalent to about a century in Internet years. I think back to the way electronic communication was being used at the beginning of my time in admissions (2001) with a sort of amazement. The contrast between the relative stasis in other aspects of my life since that time—I haven't grown any taller, for example; I have not improved my running speed; I have not developed new hobbies or excellent character traits—and how dramatically antediluvian it feels in terms of the webworld is striking.
Sometime around the very beginning of my admissions tenure, I had a conversation with a law student in which we were musing about the issue of anonymous postings in law school admissions forums. She had been an active participant throughout her admissions process the preceding year on an early incarnation of law school discussion boards: the sarcastically titled xoxohth, self-described as the "most prestigious law school discussion board in the world"—and had some lingering anxiety about the possibility of being unmasked to the world of legal employers. At least at the time, you see, the conversations on xoxohth were perennially . . . well, let's call them edgy, often devolving into wildly racist and sexist and generally loathsome rants. (The site is still alive and kicking, but it seems to have been more or less supplanted—in any event, I cannot report on the current tenor of the conversations.) My law student pal had not been (at least, this is what she told ME) one of Those Sorts of Posters, but she was aware that the unfortunate tone might imbue even the PG-13-rated participants with a certain redolence. Her position was that admissions officers (and, now that she was a law student, prospective employers) ought to avert their collective gaze from xoxohth, and certainly ought not ever to try to determine who anyone was.
On the one hand, I would happily sign a pledge about never trying to determine who anyone is—who has time? And really, who wants to know even if they do have time? But I told her that whatever the merits of her argument from an ethics standpoint, I thought it was completely unrealistic to think that the bulk of admissions officers would be able to resist the lure. Any sensible poster should consider that likelihood in framing her comments. I mean—it's called the worldwide web. Come on.
Putting that question to the side, though, I parted company with her on the argument that admissions officers ought not look at all. Now, even back in those days of my relative youth I tended to want to avoid direct contact with that kind of forum because it made me feel cranky—but I would often ask the more equanimous Admissions Office staffers to check in periodically and let me know if there were any conversational trends that affected our work. That system worked beautifully, because the cleaned-up Reader's Digest version I would hear gave me helpful intel without plunging me into misanthropic despair. (Note: In keeping with today's theme of the passing-of-time, it occurred to me that law school applicants may not be familiar with Reader's Digest—and indeed, a quick Google search revealed that a mere 26 minutes earlier, a story had come out about a new round of bankruptcy petitioning for the magazine. That suggests both that no one will know what it is AND that I am incredibly timely.)
Anyway, I explained all this to the law student and asked her if she really thought admissions officers should avoid a forum where the consumers of their work were opining about the effectiveness of that work. Wouldn't it be actually professionally irresponsible to pay no attention? After all, I said, if law school admissions officers constructed an anonymous forum in which we recounted the best and worst of our daily interactions with applicants, I would expect any sane and on-the-ball applicant to be checking it out, trying to gauge tips for increasing the chance of admission. (And PS, almost certainly trying to figure out which poster was Asha Rangappa and which was Faye Deal….).
I cannot now recall the outcome of that exchange of views—did I persuade her even a jot?—but that conversation nonetheless came rushing back to me the other day when an admissions colleague (I shall not reveal the identity!) sent a link to this little tumblr gem from the world of undergrad admissions:
Now, I have not so thoroughly reviewed the site as to be able to assert whether I think every offering is reflective of the views of a minority or a plurality or a majority or an overwhelming near-unanimous supermajority of admissions officers, but I can say for sure that it's pretty fantastic. I share it now as a philanthropic educational gesture. Enjoy.